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The Highs and Lows of Collegiate Cannabis Prevention, Part II

Health, Safety, and Well-being
February 5, 2019

In our last blog, NASPA explored the current landscape of collegiate cannabis use in America. Please visit our last blog for additional information. In this edition, we will highlight essential information for student affairs professionals, as well as best prevention strategies.

Legal Implications for College Student Use
Possession of cannabis on a college campus (even in states that have legalized retail sales) is a violation of the Drug Free Schools and Communities Act (DFSCA). While it is legal for residents and visitors over the age of 21 to possess cannabis in some states, it is a violation of the DFSCA to be in possession on campus property, including residence halls. It is important to underscore that medical use is a recommendation, not a prescription. Students with a medical cannabis recommendation remain subject to campus policies about possession and use, as cannabis is not subject to compliance under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Cannabis advertisement on campus is also a violation of the DFSCA. Cannabis remains federally illegal, and may have implications for international students studying in the United States on a student visa.

Risk and Protective Factors Influencing Student Use

A variety of risk and protective factors exist for college students at the biological, family, or community level. Risk factors such as access to cannabis, association with cannabis using peers, party culture, permissive norms, and lack of organized activities are associated with higher likelihood of negative outcomes. Colleges and universities may increase protective factors such as positive norms, connectedness, campus policy, and effective prevention programming through a variety of collaborative efforts. Prevention teams have the capacity to influence programmatic efforts on campus, and can work to ensure comprehensive and effective policies for students. Cannabis prevention efforts should not happen in a vacuum, as a majority of college attending youth who report recent cannabis use also report co-use of alcohol, leading to larger concerns about cross fading. Cross fading occurs when students consume both alcohol and cannabis, resulting in more impairment than either alone. Another term that may be unfamiliar to campus staff is “greening out”, used to describe the feeling of ingesting too much cannabis, and feeling nauseous or distressed.

Evidence Informed Intervention Strategies

Campus prevention teams should take lessons learned from collegiate alcohol prevention, allowing harm reduction programs to be integrated in a comprehensive campus prevention program. When it comes to alcohol prevention on campus, efforts like the College Alcohol Intervention Matrix (CollegeAIM) help delineate evidence-based practices based on cost and efficacy. Utilizing a harm reduction lens has proven to be more effective than abstinence only programming, though these conversations may look different in states that do not have legalized cannabis.
 As student affairs professionals, we have an opportunity to adapt current evidence-based practices and contribute to the successes and lessons learned in cannabis prevention. Several questions to consider when planning prevention programming include:

  • Using Alcohol Skills Training Programs (ASTP) as a model, how can we engage in continued educational dissemination efforts regarding negative cannabis use impacts?
  • What steps could be taken to identify potentially hazardous use, and where can motivational interviewing and screenings be utilized across campus settings (including residence life, health and counseling centers, and athletics)? Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) can be utilized with the CUDIT-R (Cannabis Use Disorder Inventory Test, Revised) an adaptation of the AUDIT (Alcohol Use Disorder Inventory Test).
  • What environmental changes and policies need to be modeled off of the success we have seen with tobacco prevention? This may be especially salient as vaping becomes more prevalent nationwide.
  • What relationships exist or could be leveraged with community partners to limit cannabis retailer outlet and density near campus?
  • How can bystander intervention programs be adaptive to be effective at managing situations including cannabis?

How do we take these lessons learned and move forward? The Higher Education Cannabis Prevention Toolkit contains research and strategies to engage in effective prevention on campus. As practitioners, we can continue to try to adapt evidence-based and evidence-informed strategies to create comprehensive, sustainable, and effective campus prevention strategies to support student success. Each January, NASPA hosts the Strategies Conferences, including the Alcohol, Other Drug, and Campus Violence Prevention Conference. Information about the 2020 conference will be released soon and in the meantime please feel welcome to reach out to cade@naspa.org with questions.